More From the Grocery Store

Posted on Monday, August 31, 2009 | 0 comments

I went shopping with Yuki's dad in Yokohama again, since Yuki had to study for his exam again (less than a week to go!). We went to this huge mall near his house, called LaLaPort....who knows how many stores are in there, but it's got 2 large grocery stores, plus a bunch of restaraunts, a movie theater, and maybe 300 or so retail stores.
One of the grocery stores had the biggest tuna head I've ever seen on display! (The sign in its mouth even reads 'Big size', just in case you didn't realize that it was HUGE).




We also found 2 new types of Kit Kats: a vegetable Kit Kat of the same brand as a popular vegetable juice here, and an ume (Japanese plum) soda Kit Kat. The vegetable Kit Kats have in them, among other things, celery, spinach, apples, carrots, cabbage, green peppers, and other bits of fruits and vegetables. Even so, they basically just tasted like an apple-flavored Kit Kat, and I didn't see anything in the nutritional facts that made them appear any healthier than your average Kit Kat. Score: 6. Wasabi loved pulling them out of the bag and batting them around the room, however, but seeing as she does that to anything in a small plastic package, I don't think it was because they were vegetable Kit Kats.
The ume soda Kit Kats were given a 6.5 out of 10...they tasted more like soda than anything, but they weren't half-bad overall.

Vegetable Kit Kats



Ume Soda Kit Kats

Octopus and seaweed...and dog poo cake

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2009 | 0 comments


Here's what I had for dinner a few nights ago: tako (octopus) and wakame (a type of seaweed), with karashi miso (spicy miso, it tastes like a spicy mustard, sort of). Stores here actually have healthy pre-made food, besides all the fried chicken, friend pork, friend you-name-it. And, if you go after 7 or 8 p.m. then anything left is usually half off. Which works out well for me, since I don't tend to get off work until 8 or 9 and am usually too tired to cook much if I haven't already prepared something earlier in the day! Yuki picked this up for me since he knows I love it (his company serves dinner in their cafeteria, so he usually eats there unless I happen to be coming home early). Not the best arrangement in terms of family dinner, but so far it's the best we can work out...and it makes weekend dinners something to look forward to!
It's still been a slow week, but I did do yet more baking this afternoon: flourless chocolate cake. I decided to surprise Yuki and leave it for him when he gets home. It's our 2-year wedding anniversary today! (For those of you who remember that our wedding ceremony was in February and are confused at this point: the paperwork and ceremony are completely separate here in Japan. So we filed the papers early in order to have the documentation to change my driver's license, etc when we went back home for Christmas that year). Sadly, we're not doing much tonight since Y. is still studying like mad for his upcoming exam at work (just over a week to go), but I figure at the very least we can have some wine and cake this evening!
The recipe is from Gourmet magazine and is posted on epicurious.com. Amazing Flourless Chocolate Cake
I've made it multiple times and everyone has always raved out it. A little goes a long way, so don't be fooled by the size, either. My picture doesn't really do it justice, especially since we don't have any fruit to top it with right now (that, and I'm obviously not very good at 'sprinkling' on cocoa powder; 'clumping' on is more like it), but here it is anyway.

Ok, looking at the picture again, saying that it doesn't do the cake justice is a slight understatement...this picture makes the cake look rather like something that came out the wrong end of the dog. Apologies to those of you who are grossed out right now, but it does, let's be honest. Still, if you need something quick, easy, and decadent, then this definitely your cake! Just don't forget the berries.

Convenience store snacks

Posted on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | 3 comments

A random sampling of some of the weirder items found in convenience stores here...pretty much any flavor of Pringles that you can imagine, they have it! (FYI: 'Night Star' is 'double cheese'). The grape tube is a new product, just for summer: grape-flavored chewable ice. I did buy that one, and it's great; basically like bite-size pieces of a chewable grape popsicle. Only 50 calories, too!
I'm not too sure what the spicy 'bacon flavored' snacks are, and I have to admit that I'm not about to find out, either. If you're interested in trying them, let me know and I may just send you one!






Fetch Wasabi, Fetch!

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2009 | 2 comments

video
Wasabi often acts more like a dog than a cat...including playing fetch with her little stuffed pink kitty (many thanks to our landlady for making it). She's usually pretty good about actually fetching, but we thought this video was too funny not to post. To give her credit, she'd been faithfully returning with her toy for about 10 throws in a row before this. Here she is in action...sort of. Definitely in more of a cat fashion this time!

Maneki Neko Duck

Posted on Sunday, August 23, 2009 | 0 comments

Aflac here in Japan has launched a new commerical campaign, in the form of Maneki Neko Duck. Maneki neko (neko means 'cat') is basically a good-luck cat that most business have displayed somewhere. I forget which paw is which, but depending on which one the cat has raised, it's supposed to bring in either money/prosperity or else good business. Whatever the case, this cat is pretty much omnipresent throughout Japan, and now Aflac has come up with the genius idea of further capitalizing on their famous duck by creating, yes, Maneki Neko Duck. It's quite adorable and I'm already scheming as to how to get ahold of one for Wasabi (ok, ok, she couldn't care less), since you have to sign up for insurance with Aflac or at least go in for a quote in order to get a duck/cat. We'll see if my wonderful husband pulls through and procures one or not!
In the meanwhile, we did find this little widget to add...if you click on the play arrow (NOT the 'click') then a pop-up will tell you your daily horoscope...in Japanese, of course.

Maneki Neko Duck Website

482F Oven on a 95F day

Posted on Saturday, August 22, 2009 | 0 comments

Since the temperature was bordering on 100 today, we decided to spice things up even more and hit Naan Ghandi's for lunch. The actual name of the restaurant is Tandoor, but we always refer to it at Naan Ghandi's. (The first time we went, after the place had just opened, there was a guy making nann who, I swear, could've been Ghandi himself reincarnate. And wow, could Ghandi make a mean naan!) There are a few Indian restaurants in our area, but this one is definitely the best.
Ghandi unfortunately disappeared after that first sighting, but Naan Ghandi's has thankfully continued to prosper. Quite possibly solely due to their cocaine soup. Seriously, though, this is some of the best soup I've ever had. It's absolutely addicting. We've been trying forever to figure out exactly what is in this stuff, and have even asked the manager/head waiter. His response? 'Chiiicken....some egg...and spices, lots of spices'. Thanks. Very helpful, mister. I've spotted some pepper in there, and it also has a slightly sweet taste, so we're guessing sugar, too. If anyone has any idea what kind of soup it is, please tell me so I can do a recipe search! I've already scoured the internet for 'Indian chicken soup recipe' to no avail.
Besides our amazing soup, we also got a little sampler of tandoori chicken, rice, salad, and then some kind of chicken curry (I can't remember exactly what the name was), and some ram curry. Or it could have been 'l'amb curry. Hah. Whatever the case, it was something to do with sheep, and it was great. Oh, and of course, naan as big as your head. We were of course stuffed by the time we rolled ourselves out an hour later, but it was definitely worth it. Naan as big as your head!




Moving on to dinner...I tried a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook that came highly recommended (thanks, Kristyn!). Eli's Asian Salmon. Not sure who Eli is, but he makes some pretty crazy fish. Here's the recipe, preceded by my own notes.

We couldn't find 'fish sauce' per se at the grocery store, so we bought Nanpura, which is pretty close---a kind of fishy soy sauce made with anchovies. They also didn't have chili paste and we were too lazy to head over to the import store, so we bought tobanjan, which is Chinese chili paste made with red pepper, broad bean paste, soy sauce, chili oil, and sake lees. To make up for all this extra sodium, I used light soy sauce. Finally, our microwave/oven only goes to 250F, which is 482F, not quite 500F. Nanpura and Tobanjan


I kept everything else the same on a quarter scale though, right down to the panko, which was rather a sacrifice on my part since all the panko we could find contained shortening or margarine. And if you know me, you know that I hate hate HATE trans fats. HATE. THEM. Here's hoping that Japanese culture catches on soon to how evil that crap is. (It's only taken Americans how long?) Seriously though, there's even shortening in most types of bread here! If you're reading this over breakfast, put down your toast and go check your bread loaf label...yuck.
Back on track, though. Our overall rating of this recipe was a 7. It was good...but also a bit too 'in your face' in terms of flavor. That could be from the substitutions I made, or it could be due to the fast that Yuki and I are both accustomed to milder Japanese cuisine. Also, perhaps because it was baked at a slightly lower temperature, the panko wasn't really crispy. I'm guessing it wasn't supposed to be though, since the instructions tell you to cover the salmon tightly after removing it from the oven and let it sit. I'd recommend crushing up some saltines and using those instead of panko. They're easier to find in the U.S. and will likely stay crispier, besides the obvious benefit of no trans fats.

Eli's Asian Salmon
From: Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten


Ingredients
2 1/4 pounds center-cut salmon fillet (1 1/2 inches thick)
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon toasted (dark) sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons chili paste
1/2 cup sliced scallions (2 scallions)
2 tablespoons minced garlic (8 large cloves)
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Directions
Line an 8 by 12-inch baking pan with aluminum foil. Place the salmon in the pan.

In a mixing cup, combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, lemon juice, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, chili paste, scallions, garlic, and ginger. Pour 1/3 of soy sauce mixture over the salmon fillet.










Sprinkle the panko evenly over the fillet. Pour the rest of the soy sauce mixture evenly over the panko. Be sure to soak the panko completely and if any runs off, spoon back onto the salmon. Set aside for 15 minutes, leaving all the sauce in the pan.









Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Roast the salmon for 18 to 20 minutes, or for about 12 minutes per inch at the thickest part of the salmon. The internal temperature will be 120 degrees F on a meat thermometer when it's done. Remove from the oven, wrap tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

The final product: Eli's Asian Salmon along with sesame spinach and a melody of sauteed mushrooms

Visiting a local temple

Posted on Friday, August 21, 2009 | 0 comments

We took Wasabi to a small local temple in Yokohama last week, but I'm only just getting around to posting the photos. At least, I think it was Buddhist...but there was also a torii (wooden gate) at the entrance. So it may have been Shinto? The torii was painted black, rather unique since they're usually red. Whatever the case, it was definitely a religious site. Lots of the time here it seems that Shinto and Buddism get combined, so I sometimes have a hard time telling which is which without a guidebook or an obvious torii to help me out.

Wasabi in front of the torii


We (ok, I) were originally hoping to take Wasabi to Kamakura to visit the Giant Buddha there, but it turns out that she HATES her carry bag just about as much as she hates getting her vaccines. Even the quiet local trip (we walked) was rather disasterous in terms of the amount of howls and biting attempts it produced. Needless to say, the Kamakura idea was subsequently scrapped. Too bad, as I'd been really looking forward to some great shots after being inspired by some beautiful postcards of the theme 'Nobu travels Europe'. Nobu is a black cat, and each postcard depicts an image of him in a different European country. I'm beginning to realize that Nobu has probably been drugged for each pic if he's anything like Wasabi, though!
We did get a couple of her that were post-worthy, but I doubt she'll be making any subsequent pilgrimages any time soon!


One-eyed kitty walking backwards


Escape Attempt #451


Is that a back flip, or an epileptic seizure??

Posted on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 | 1 comments

Wasabi somehow got herself tangled up in her favorite play toy last night...chaos ensued!
Click on the link below to view her in action: the video was too big to post here so I had to put it on youtube instead.

Wasabi the acrobat

Yet More New Products

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2009 | 0 comments

***Disclaimer: Yuki is still studying for his huge upcoming exam at work (3 weeks and counting), so until he's free and we can run away on more vacations, I'll likely be blogging about local events, the cat, and of course food. Consider yourself forewarned.***


We found the soy yogurt that I mentioned last week! (Quit yawning; this is a big deal for me! Besides, I warned you). As that saying goes, sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Or rather, until your stomach doesn't let you eat it anymore. Such is the case with me and dairy products. I used to consume cheese and milk in amounts that would shock your average onlooker. A big block of chedder cheese, mmm. And blue cheese dressing. And buttermilk ranch dressing...sometimes I'd even dip my (cheese-flavored) potato chips into buttermilk dressing. Cheese and peanut butter sandwiches...cream cheese and pizza sauce on pretzels....ice cream....at Taco Bell, I'd order my tacos with extra cheese and sour cream. You get the idea.
But that blissful love affair ended in college, when my stomach decided that dairy was no longer its friend, let alone lover. Stupid stomach. Perhaps it was denial, but it took me forever to figure out that I had lactose intolerance. Actually, it took a doctor to tell me that, after I went in trying to figure out the cause of so many stomachaches. Even then I didn't want to believe it, but sometimes one must accept the truth, however difficult it may be.
So, while my stomach has likely saved me from a massive coronary down the road, it's also made for some rough going here in Japan, cuisine-wise. Traditional Japanese food is of course fine, but you'd be surprised by how much dairy the people in this country consume. And I thought that lactose intolerance was way more common in Asians! Not in Japanese, apparently. These people looooove Haagen Dazs, cream puffs, real butter, cream cakes, cream on just about anything. And French food. French food with lots of butter, to be exact. Actually, want to make any food 'Western'? Just add cream, milk, butter, or cheese. Or all 4!
In terms of locating substitutes, soy milk has been easy to find, but you could forget about soy ice cream until just last year. Any ice cream with soy in it also contained lots of dairy; the soy was only for 'health' benefits. We finally did locate a brand that is dairy-free, so now I've got my choice of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or green tea. Of which the chocolate and strawberry are the only flavors worth bothering with: the vanilla tastes like tofu, which would be fine if I wanted tofu, and the green tea is really sweet and gross. Green tea should never be sweet....Soy cheese is still non-existent so I just do without that, same as I've been going without any soy yogurt until last week. Enter...'SUGOI Daizu'! I would buy this stuff based on the name alone, which basically translates to 'WOW Soybeans'!

SUGOI Daizu
The not-so-cleverly-named cholesterol-lowering yogurt

















SUGOI Daizu is pretty sweet, even though it's supposed to be plain soy yogurt, but I'm not going to complain. We also found some other dairy-free yogurt that's competing with SUGOI Daizu; unfortunately the name isn't nearly as fun and involves something about lowering cholesterol. Not that I'm going to get picky about it or anything, especially since it tastes more like real yogurt than SUGOI Daizu does.
Moving on to a product more fun than boring old soy yogurt, Yuki's dad and I also found another flavor of Kit Kats at the store last week. Well, we really found 2 more flavors, but I could only be bothered to buy one of them. There was Lemon Vinegar and also Sour Orange; we decided against Sour Orange, though. Good choice; the lemon vinegar ones are amazing! A 10 out of 10; too bad we only found one bag and haven't seen any more since.

P.S. Yuki may force me to remove his modeling debut pic, but I thought he was too cute not to post. The headband is not, repeat not, the current style here: he was just about to go wash his face.

Lovely Lemon Kit Kats


Even the wrapper tastes good!


Sour Orange Kit Kats

Wasabi's torture session

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2009 | 0 comments

We took Wasabi to get some of her vaccines on Sunday. She's not really a great patient. Actually, she's an awful one. She bit the vet's assistant so many times that they finally pulled out these big oven mitt-looking gloves to hold her still for the injections. And needless to say, the rectal thermometer was not a big hit with anyone besides Yuki, who thinks that the resulting look on Wasabi's face is hilarious every time. Poor kitty!
After we returned to the waiting room, everyone there was asking if Wasabi was all right, since they all heard her yowling during her exam. Like mother, like daughter, I guess---when I was little, I cut my foot on a broken china doll that my sister left laying on the floor (I still give her hell about this occassionally).
My mom stayed in the waiting room with my siblings at the doctor's while my dad escorted me in for my stitches. I don't remember screaming at all, but my mom said that every kid in the pediatrician's office was freaked out due to the sound of my shrieking emanating from the back of the building. Oops. All I really remember is being pissed at my dad because he was so happy that he got to tie off and cut the thread for the stitches (he was in med school at the time). So I can definitely sympathize with our little Wasa-monster for biting anyone within range!
The upshot to our baby's injections is that she was really mild and slept for most of the day afterwards. It's almost a shame that we have to wait until 3 weeks for her boosters!

The Longest Descent Ever...or, 'Where's that stupid dog??'

Posted on Sunday, August 16, 2009 | 0 comments



When we started back down Mt. Fuji, we were thinking that the rest of the hike would be a breeze. After all, going back down is always easier, right?
Yuki even said that he remembered his grandma talking about this old Japanese saying, something about how 'the dog eats the return path', but he couldn't recall exactly how it went. Basically though, it meant that the way back always seems shorter than the way going. I always thought it was kind of funny to say that the dog ate it, but figured who was I to contest an ancient proverb, right? But we just tried to look it up online in order to get the exact quote, and there's no record of any such saying to be found. We'll have to ask his grandma next time we see her, but we're now wondering if maybe that 'ancient proverb' wasn't just something she randomly made up. Whatever the case, nobody benefitted from any benevolent dog on this mountain!
...It was supposed to be about 3 hours back down, no big deal. The return route was not the same as the ascending route, but it didn't really look all that bad from what we could see. And we could see pretty far down---lines and lines of people descending on the switchbacks, to be exact.

The view (note all the little people)

About 5 minutes into the descent, the sun popped out and we were all feeling pretty good. The rays through the clouds were spectacular, more than enough to make up for the lack of sunrise visibility. After a few minutes though, the sun again retreated and we continued down the path.






To be honest, the trip down probably would've been ok except for these couple of factors: the path was extremely slippery due to lots of loose volcanic rock; everyone was trying to function on no sleep; and, there were 3 bathrooms the entire way down. These 3 rest stations had 2 or 3 toilets each for men and for women. On one of the busiest hiking days of the season. You do the math.
Everyone's knees started to ache after 45 minutes, and we were all feeling quite old after seeing high schoolers (ok, and sometimes grandfathers) go running past us, skidding around the curves at high speed. How people could manage to add yet more force to their joints without requiring a knee replacement is beyond me.

The Evil Trail

Even with all of our precautions, I fell once, as did Yuki. I'm not sure about Tsuyoshi and Akane, since we lost them again around the halfway mark. I'm guessing that they were hating me by that point anyway, since I was the one with the bright idea to climb Mt. Fuji in the first place. So maybe it's best that they weren't close enough to shove me off some rocks.
To make a very, very long descent short, we finally reached the 5th station shuttle bus area at 10:30, having taken numerous breaks and waited in line for the restroom for about a half hour. I could definitely see why the Japanese have a saying that you're a fool if you don't climb Mt. Fuji once, but you're a fool if you climb it twice. I think the saying should be more like 'You're a fool if you don't climb Mt. Fuji, and you're a fool if you don't get a helicopter to bring you back down'!
All in all, it was a good hike, although I wouldn't really recommend hiking anywhere that you actually have to wait in line to move. It's not my idea of 'hiking', but maybe that's just me. My advice is: If you're ever going to climb it, try to go at the beginning or end of the season, when Mt. Fuji is less likely to resemble Tokyo Disneyland!

Finally back down!

Part 2: The Summit

Posted on Sunday, August 16, 2009 | 0 comments

Mt. Fuji Summit Sign

...Yuki and I reached the top of Mt. Fuji around 3 a.m. after stopping in line more than a few times (the snail's pace tour groups had passed us during the night, while we were resting at the lodge). We staked out a set of seats on some benches in order to have a good spot for watching the sunrise, and then....well, we basically just hung around and tried not to freeze. One big guy next to us was shivering like crazy and had his head down mumbling to himself. He seemed to have altitude sickness, but it was hard to tell. At any rate, after about an hour he got up, swayed back and forth, almost falling onto Yuki, then suddenly stumbled away. We never did see what happened to him, since he got lost in the crowd pretty quickly.

Trying to stay warm

Ah, the crowd. The atmosphere up there was like a block party. There was an extraordinary amount of people just milling around, looking at souvenirs, taking pictures, and generally making it impossible to move anywhere very quickly. Some where even wearing costumes--I chased down a Rilakkuma* and begged him for a picture. He was only too happy to oblige, since he got the return pleasure of having his picture taken with a foreigner wearing a Japanese flag bandana. Symbiosis at its best!

Rilakkuma and Me

Besides all the people standing and tromping around, there were quite a few resting on the ground under blankets, most of them looking like they were in need of an IV full of warm saline. In order not to meet the same fate ourselves, we forked over an outrageous amount of yen for a couple of hot drinks and ramen (a bowl of noodles in broth). Prices on the mountain raise in accordance with the altitude, so our drinks and noodles cost us about 2000 yen, or maybe 22 USD. To put this in perspective, they'd usually cost 900 yen, about 10 USD. I probably wouldn't have paid for them if given a choice, but I'll readily admit that I was really glad when Yuki brought them back after taking a walk to warm up.

Brrr!

After huddling together and shivering for an eternity, Tsuyoshi and Akane finally joined us at 4:30. Yuki and I left them to hold our seats and made a break for the toilets before sunrise began. We ended up accidentally cutting in line since the path to the toilets also happened to be the one leading around the crater, and we simply followed the flow of the crowd. By the time we realized that 1. there was a huge line for the restrooms and 2. we'd completely cut to the front of it, I was not about to turn back. Yuki started to mention the obvious and head to the end of the line, but I threw all morals off the mountain at that point and pulled him up next to me. I know, I will probably spend an eternity in hell for this, waiting in line outside a demonic smelly restroom and never actually getting to use the toilet. But with no sleep, it being 20 minutes to sunrise, the urge to pee my pants becoming stronger by the second, and the group of guys behind us somehow not noticing or caring about our sudden apperance, I seized the moment. I should probably feel some shame about this, but anyone who knows me knows that I discard fluid much faster than your average bear, and when I have to pee, I. h.a.v.e. t.o. p.e.e. Enough said.
Mission accomplished, we somehow managed to make our way back to our seats (the crowd was in an all-time frenzy by this point, shoving and eagerly awaiting the first rays of light through the fog). Did I mention that it was foggy? Extremely foggy. As in, I don't know why anyone expected to be able to see a hint of the sun, let alone the sunrise itself, but it seemed like we all did. So, the fog grew lighter and lighter...and....that was it. The fog got lighter. No sunrise to be seen. Disappointing, but we were all so tired that we just wanted to leave Dark City and head back down to civilization.


The Crowd














We did take some time to get our hiking sticks stamped at the shrine, and of course we took quite a few more pictures before starting down the return path. I even thought to take a pic with the Fannie May candy bar that my mom stole from her fundraiser box at work and then passed on to me. (Just joking Mom! But it is the actual candy bar that was in question).
Fannie May
And, luckily for us, the sun popped out about a minute before we headed back, so Yuki got a couple of beautiful shots in before we started down around 6 a.m. A good start to the morning, overall.

Sunburst


*Rilakkuma's name is a combination of the Japanese pronunciation of 'relax' and the Japanese word for bear (kuma). Rilakkuma is a character produced by the San-X company.

Part 1: Mt. Fuji Climb...or, Ascending Japan's Biggest Hunk of Lava

Posted on Saturday, August 15, 2009 | 0 comments

***I was going to type this all in one entry, but seeing as it has become much longer than anticipated, it will be divided into 3 instead: the ascent, the top, and of course, the descent***

The before picture


Yuki and me at the trailhead


We climbed Mt. Fuji on Thursday, continuing into Friday morning, after much anticipation (and a little case of nerves). Since the routes up the mountain are only open about 2 months out of the year, it's usually pretty crowded. Adding to the chaos, these past couple of days were the Obon holiday, meaning that most people had off work and were thus able to do random holiday things like attempt to climb up the heart and soul of Japan. Finally, everyone wants to climb overnight and be at the top in time for sunrise. What this all means is that we were climbing during one of the most crowded days of the year. I wasn't exactly expecting a tranquil ascent, but the sheer number of hikers was still somewhat shocking. And the tour groups were just plain annoying. Picture very, very slow 'hikers' in groups of 30-50 taking up the entire trail. Moving roadblocks, and as soon as you'd get past one group, there'd be another one in front of you.
On the trail

I tend to move at a rather fast pace, so this was pretty frustrating, but at least it kept us from ascending too quickly and getting altitude sickness. Yuki partook of some oxygen around I think the 8th station (the mountain is divided into stations, each station number representing a percentage up the mountain. For example, the 8th station means 80% up). He never got anything more than a mild headache, though, which may or may not have been attributable to the thin air.

Yuki and his new friend, O2




Cloud scene


Past the 7th station was a pretty nice hike: by that point, the majority of the tour groups had stopped at their respective lodges to rest for a few hours, and everyone else had either given up or was at least moving faster than your average nursing home resident. We saw a gorgeous sunset; I'd recommend climbing Mt. Fuji for that reason alone.


Yuki and Me Above the Clouds


Falling














We finally made it to our lodge (halfway past the 8th station, so roughly at 85% up the mountain) around 7 p.m. After checking in, we relaxed and waited about 45 minutes for the other couple we were hiking with to arrive. When I say 'hiking with', I have to admit that I use the term rather loosely, since I early on gave up trying to slow down and match my strides with the already self-declared slow female half of the couple, Akane. She was really a trooper, though---I don't think that either she or her boyfriend Tsuyoshi are really the hiking type (Tsuyoshi didn't even want to go in the first place, I found out later, but she convinced him to), and poor Akane was feeling pretty ill by the time they got to the lodge. Still, she never complained and just kept pushing on. I have to give her credit: had I been feeling as ill as she seemed, I would've turned back and not even made it that far! And she made it all the way to the top, too!

At the Lodge

Anyway, after they made it to the lodge, we had a curry dinner (side note: if you want to make canned curry taste good, just serve it way up on a mountain to people who have been hiking all day) and then tried to get some sleep, since the plan was to leave around 2 a.m. to make the summit by sunrise, which was at 5 a.m. The top was only supposed to be maybe an hour to an hour and a half from our lodge, but with the number of tour groups that'd soon be blocking the path, we figured the sooner the better. It didn't really matter anyway, since nobody got more than an hour or two of sleep that night.
Let me explain the lodge layout. When you come in the doors, you take off your shoes and step up onto traditional style tatami mats in the main room, where everyone congregates and eats dinner, etc. Leading off this room is another very large, dark room, consisting solely of 2 aisles separating the bed area into 3 sections. For some reason it made me think of concentration camp style beds, even though I've never actually seen a concentration camp, let alone its sleeping arrangements. Maybe just because I remember reading in Schindler's List about how many people were crammed into such small spaces.
These 'beds' were set up as follows: you could sleep on the ground level, stepping down slightly and crawling onto your respective mats, or you could sleep on the upper level, climbing a short ladder up into the loft area, which was about 6 feet high. Each level was sub-divided into sections meant for 4 people, but the dividers were really only about the size of 2 by 4's, so the entire area was basically open.
We were given an area in the loft, so we could at least hang our bags from hooks in the rafters. The disadvantage to the loft was the number of opportunities it provided for smacking one's head, which I took advantage of at least 3 times. Ow. Also, the space for 4 was really meant for 4 children, or else 4 anoxerics, perhaps. VERY tight quarters. I'm glad that all of us were skinny, but it was still a bit close for comfort!
The cleanliness of the bedding was rather suspicious too, but after hiking all day, nobody was about to get too picky. I did see some of the workers spraying sanitizer on the pillows and mats they were putting out in the main room---the lodge was so crowded that people were lying anywhere they could---but the sanitizer incident was somehow more scary than reassuring! Still, nobody got any bedbug bites that I know of, thankfully!



Lodge Bedding


I had already assumed that it would be hard to sleep, since I'd read numerous accounts online of how noisy it can get, due to people moving past outside on the trail, that and people coming in and out of the lodge. I usually have a rough time falling asleep in less-than-ideal conditions, so I'd brought ear plugs and an eye mask with me. Even so, I could still hear some guy snoring from across the aisle, plus another guy kept very, very, VERY loudly passing gas every 2 minutes. You could set your watch by it, honestly. It was pretty funny at first (especially since we couldn't smell anything), but after a while it was just plain annoying. And, once I started to tune all that out, Tsuyoshi fell asleep and started snoring loudly himself. Since I was to his right and figured his girlfriend was too nice to do it, I took it upon myself to poke him every time he started up. With Yuki, whenever he starts to snore, I've discovered that all I have to do is nudge at him until he shifts positions and stops the nasal symphony. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for Tsuyoshi, and all my poking did was eventually wake him up. Oops. He'd only slept 2 hours the night before, so I felt particulary guilty about waking him. Poor guy. But it did let me fall asleep for maybe 45 minutes, until another snorer woke me up.
By some point, we'd all either woken up or just given up on falling asleep in the first place, and pretty much the whole lodge got up after a group of extremely rude females started preparing to head out, talking loudly from a corner of the loft. Yuki pointed his flashlight at them several times and hissed that they were being rude, to no avail. Let that put an end to the stereotype that all Japanese are polite! (Most of the people I've met are incredibly nice, but there are always exceptions to the rule).
So, instead of leaving at 2 a.m., we left at 1:30. This was still too early in terms of getting to the peak and then having to wait in the freezing cold, but nobody really wanted to hang around the lodge any more, either.
Akane was continuing to have a rough go of it, so we went ahead of her and Tsuyoshi again. The rest of the way up was really beautiful, actually. It was a clear night, and in the thin air the line of lights from people going up the mountain looked almost like a formation of fireflies. It was a little surreal, something out of Close Encounters maybe.
I was reminded of the time some friends and I had driven out to the salt lake in Utah one evening. We'd arrived around sunset, in time to walk out onto the Spiral Jetty. (Another amazing experience; I would highly recommend going if you ever have the chance). On the way back, we drove past the Thiokol rocket factory. It was the only sign of civilization to be seen, a twinkling mecca of lights in the desert. The scene on Mt. Fuji had the same feel to it: desolate, yet somehow comforting and beautiful at the same time. I wish I could describe it better, but perhaps it's one of those moments you have to experience for yourself to fully appreciate.
The temperature had also dropped a lot by this point, but we were doing ok with our winter coats (thanks Taku, for loaning me your North Face coat!), plus everyone was working up a sweat due to the steep slope. We saw quite a few people sleeping by the side of the trail, wrapped up in those metallic thermal blankets. How they could sleep with the herd noisily moving fast was beyond me, but maybe hypothermia helped.
Finally, finally, finally, just before 3 a.m., we passed under an unpainted wooden torii (the gates to a Japanese shrine) and arrived at the top!
Ninjas


Yuki and Me